Industry Perspectives: Q&A with Siqi Chen, CEO of Serious Business

Serious Business serious-business-logowas one of the earliest developers of social games on the Facebook Platform with its now-famous game Friends For Sale. Since then, the company has focused on monetizing its audience through virtual currency sales and sponsored virtual gifts, as well as continued game development efforts on new titles.

Recently, we spoke with Siqi Chen, CEO of Serious Business, about the company’s plans going forward.

Inside Social Games: Siqi, what’s Serious Business’s strategy at this point going forward?

siqi-chen-serious-businessSiqi Chen: There are two large categories of games that we’ve dipped our toes in. One that we pioneered with Friends For Sale – where it’s really social and you’re trying to meet hot people. It’s not really an RPG but a “social social” game. We also recently launched Happy Hour in this category. It replicates club experiences, and we sell luxury items for hundreds of dollars. It’s done well for us because distribution is so easy.

The other giant category is casual RPGs. We dipped our toes in with Rock Legends, but honestly it’s had an extremely tortured development cycle. We originally planned for it to be more like Friends For Sale, but it really wasn’t working for us, and we got more inspired by the things that were working in the game.

The main thing I learned is content is king. It’s not replicating the core mechanics fo RPG systems to make them work well – the best thing you can do is to periodically release content for users to grind though. For example, a new city, new gear. Whenever we do that, our revenue doubles for the next week. Our revenues are not as good for users initially after they join.

Another thing that you’d be surprised by is how making changes the flow from levels 1-10 can have a major impact on revenues. You can only do that in online social RPGs – not in traditional game development.

What kind of testing systems has Serious Business built to help with game development?

We’ve built a pretty sophisticated testing system internally that allocates test groups for you. It gives you a Z score so you know if you’re getting statistical significance. We run all kinds of tests – revenue tests, flow tests, copy tests.

See slides from Chen’s recent presentation with David King on metrics for social games.

What trends are you seeing in monetization and payments?

We work with all the offer providers. Targeting them smartly makes a big difference. We actually don’t know what we’re doing that they’re not able to do for themselves. but apparently we can improve on them by having another layer of targeting on top.

In addition, credit cards internationally are hot right now. For some reason, the Czech Republic became the top country for Friends For Sale after we internationalized in terms of users. Rock Legends is really big in Indonesia.

Are you working on new games?

We are. We’re really good at taking good ideas that already work and making them way better. There are only so many categories out there – poker, farming, X wars.

We have less than 10 engineers. For us, launching a new product really involves asking what we want to give up in terms of our existing apps. We have a really good company culture, and we run extremely lean. We have 3 launched apps with more than a million users each, and working on a new app, which is pretty good for our size.

Which social game developers do you respect the most?

All of them. They all doing something different right. Playfish brought extensive game design and high polish games to Facebook, and they’ve done extremely well. They haven’t exactly been dumb on the metrics side either – they’re extremely sophisticated.

And I respect Zynga just for the sheer willpower to dump as many resources as they have into one idea – both in terms of acquisitions and developing original IP. They bet on this space hard and are a big winner.